LEON — The conclusion to the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer event between Central Decatur and Interstate 35 here Saturday was a perfect way to cap off the event.
The two boys teams — friendly rivals — battled to a thrilling overtime finish that saw the host Cardinals come out on top, 62-59.
The Cardinals held a five-point lead in the closing minutes of the game, but Interstate 35 sophomore Daniel Kennedy sank a 3-pointer and senior Jamal White got a layup to tie the game at 53-53 with 1:38 to go.
The two teams went scoreless over the final 1:38 of regulation, sending the game to overtime.
In the extra period, Taylor O’Dea rebounded his own miss and put it back to give the Roadrunners a lead at 57-56 — the first lead for Interstate 35 since it was 21-18 in the second quarter.
But Peyton Pedersen spun through the lane and hit a jumper to answer, and Noah Simon made 1-of-2 free throws to make it a 59-57 Central Decatur lead.
Zach Goering made 1-of-2 at the other end to cut it to one point, but that was the closest Interstate 35 could get, as the Cardinals hung on for the win.
“That was wild down the stretch, that five-point lead we gave away and then a chance in both overtime and regulation to seal it with free throws,” Central Decatur head coach Zach Clark said. “It seemed like we missed one free throw at the line every time. We still found a way to win a basketball game.”
It marked the second time this season the Cardinals have beaten the Roadrunners. After scoring a 61-51 win in Truro in December, Clark knew his team would have to be ready to play on Saturday.
“They’re so well-coached and they’re great kids,” Clark said about I-35. “We knew they weren’t just going to come in here and lay down. We knew it was going to be a dogfight all the way through like the last one.”
After Jaylan White fouled out with 3:11 left in regulation, Interstate 35 head coach Nate Rankin said he was impressed with his young players fighting back to force overtime.
“Losing Jaylan, we’re in a tough spot,” he said. “Feels like we’ve been fighting all year. If we just continue to fight, there’s only one way it can go. Something’s going to go our way eventually. Just keep working hard, and I think we’re going to be nasty at the end of the year. Some of those young guys are getting some close games and some experience.”
Dalton Rhum led Central Decatur with 20 points to go with eight rebounds. Noah Simon recorded a double-double with 15 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Pedersen also reached double figures with 12 points.
O’Dea and Jamal White each scored 13 points to lead Interstate 35, while Jaylan White added 12 points with nine assists. Goering finished with a team-high 11 rebounds.
Central Decatur improved to 7-4 for the season, while Interstate 35 dropped to 5-7.
But, bigger than the game was the fact it was part of the Coaches vs. Cancer event, which Rankin said gave the game a playoff-like atmosphere.
“It was a great environment,” he said. “We try to tell the kids it’s about more than just basketball. No more evident than a game like tonight.”
For Rankin, who lost his sister to non-Hodgkins lymphoma two years ago, the Coaches vs. Cancer game is a special event.
“Zach and I had already talked about doing something before my sister got sick,” Rankin said. “But once she got sick, I didn’t think there was any other way. So many people suffer in our district and in Leon.
“It’s something we can come together about,” he continued. “Come together as a community and show it’s not just about athletics, it’s about being good humans and trying to cure the disease of cancer. Things are more important than basketball.”